Twitter on Thursday suddenly suspended a host of prominent tech journalists, including many who reported about billionaire Elon Musk’s chaotic leadership at the social media giant in recent weeks.
The accounts for The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, Mashable’s Matt Binder and independent journalist Aaron Rupar all disappeared Thursday evening, as did several others. All of those reporters have written about Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter, the fallout after he laid off half of its employees and the company’s decision to ban, then un-ban, then re-ban an account that tracked Musk’s private plane flights.
Aaron Rupar told NBC’s Ben Collins he had “no idea” why the suspension happened. Other suspensions rolled in later in the evening, including for political commentator Keith Olbermann, Tony Webster, an independent journalist, and Micah Lee, a reporter for The Intercept.
A message on the accounts simply says they have been suspended for violating Twitter’s rules.
Musk, who has declared himself a “free speech absolutist,” suggested later that the journalists were suspended for sharing his “real-time location and endangering my family.” He later claimed those banned had effectively posted “assassination coordinates” in their reporting about the @ElonJet twitter account.
Musk shared a poll asking his 121 million followers if the accounts should be unsuspended immediately or after a seven-day ban.
“7 day suspension for doxxing,” Musk wrote. “Some time away from Twitter is good for the soul.”
In a Twitter Spaces late Thursday, Musk attempted to defend the company’s actions when several other journalists noted those who were banned hadn’t shared his location but were reporting on the @ElonJet account that had itself been suspended.
“Everyone on this call would not like that if it were done to them,” Musk said before departing the discussion after a few minutes. “There’s not going to be any distinction in the future between journalists and regular people. You’re not special because you’re a journalist.”
Mac, writing from a secondary account on Twitter, said he was given “no warning” before the suspension and has not been contacted in any way by the company.
“I report on Twitter, Elon Musk and his companies,” Mac wrote. “And I will continue to do so.”
Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told the Verge the company wouldn’t comment on any specific suspensions but did say “we will suspend any accounts that violate our privacy policies and put other users at risk.”
“We don’t make exceptions to this policy for journalists or any other accounts,” Irwin said, pointing to Twitter’s updated policy of sharing “live location information.”
Representatives of news organizations employing the journalists expressed outrage.
Sally Buzzbee, executive editor of The Washington Post, said Harwell’s suspension is in conflict with Musk’s self-professed interest in protecting free speech on Twitter.
“Harwell was banished without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting about Musk,” Buzzbee said. “Our journalist should be reinstated immediately.”
CNN said it would reassess its relationship with Twitter.
Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called out Musk for targeting reporters.
“Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Maybe try putting down your phone.”
The European Union hinted sanctions could be on the way for Musk’s social media platform.
“There are red lines,” Věra Jourová, vice-president for Values and Transparency in the European Commission, wrote.
Downing Street said a new Online Safety Bill will prevent Musk from “arbitrarily” and “inconsistently” removing U.K. users from Twitter.
“We have been clear that — regardless of ownership — social media platforms must balance protecting their users while upholding free speech,” a spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters.
Twitter has been drastically reshaped since Musk formally took ownership of the company in October. He has disbanded teams that address hate speech and civil rights abuses and demanded that the company update policies on the fly to target accounts and critics that irk him.
The New York Times reported this week that Musk and his advisers have been looking at stiffing former employees of severance pay in an effort to cut costs. Twitter also hasn’t paid rent for its San Francisco headquarters, or for many of its other global offices, in weeks, hoping to renegotiate lease terms.